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Protesters march in largest climate demonstration in region’s history

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On February 17, over 5,000 concerned Bay area residents converged on San Francisco to demand that President Obama take bold action to avert catastrophic climate disruption. Demonstrators surrounded the city block of One Market Plaza, which hosts a U.S. State Department office, in protest to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The event coincided with a historic rally in Washington, D.C., which over 40,000 people attended earlier in the day, and other actions in cities throughout the country including L.A., Seattle, Denver and Chicago.

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Activists formed a human wall around the U.S. State Department office, so large that the demonstration ultimately spilled into the next city block. Marching past a giant “monster pipeline” puppet and other street theater props, protesters sang and chanted while carrying banners and waving signs, and smiling kids donned face paints of “No Keystone XL” related slogans.

Idle No More, a movement protesting resource exploitation on First Nations land, kicked off the rally with the Round Dance, and conducted a traditional prayer. Several bands stationed around the block including, the Musicians Action Group (MAG), Occupella, and the Raging Grannies entertained the crowd and kept the energy high throughout the demonstration.A diverse group of inspiring speakers addressed the audience ,including two high school students from the Alliance for Climate Education. “I’m 17 and I can tell you, climate disruption is a problem that most kids my age are very concerned about.” said Shadi Barhoumi. “It’s no longer about what will happen to future generations, these threats are staring my generation in the face right now.”

Andres Soto, co-founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, fired up the crowd by pointing to recent devastation in his community caused by the Richmond Chevron Refinery. “In the late afternoon of August 6, 2013, a toxic black mushroom cloud spread over Richmond, California and the rest of West Contra Costa County” said Soto. “Sirens alerted people to shelter in place, just like the old nuclear attack drills, and more than 15,000 ended up going to the hospital.”

Oil companies want the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to expand production from Alberta’s tar sands, the most carbon-intensive source of oil in the world. Carbon dioxide pollution from this fossil fuel reserve could push greenhouse gas levels past the “point of no return,” making catastrophic global warming irreversible. The effects on Bay Area residents, businesses, and ecosystems would be dire.

“We need immediate federal action to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” said San Francisco City Supervisor, John Avalos. “But our work doesn’t stop there. Our local community has to do its part. That’s why I’m proud to have introduced a resolution that urges San Francisco to divest retirement funds from fossil fuels.”

Today’s “Forward on Climate” nation-wide rallies came on the heels of an historic civil disobedience action in Washington D.C. last week, where leaders, including the Sierra Club’s Exectutive Director Michael Brune, 350.org founder, Bill McKibben, and about 50 others were arrested at the White House for demanding immediate action from the Obama administration on climate disruption.

Many rally participants reported feeling energized by the demonstration, saying that they’ll be watching President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline closely, and are prepared to take further action if necessary.

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